Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Tom Littler: First Episode

By | Published on Friday 31 October 2014

It’s not the first time we’ve spoken to Primavera Productions, an award winning company which focuses on reviving forgotten and neglected plays, and I feel sure it won’t be the last. I’ve always been very interested in new plays, and the development of those new plays, but it also makes me sad to think how many older, yet still brilliant and relevant pieces, are left behind as we move forward.

I have always been a big fan of Terrence Rattigan, and it’s his first play, ‘First Episode’ that the company are currently staging at Jermyn Street, a venue known for its commitment to reviving older theatrical masterpieces as well as also bringing newer work to the stage. I sent some questions over to Tom Littler, director of this production, and artistic director of Primavera.

CM: Can you tell us what ‘First Episode’ is about?
TL: It’s about a group of students in 1930s Oxford. Into their midst comes a glamorous movie star, Margot. She begins an affair with one of the students, Tony, arousing the jealousy of his best friend, David. It’s a comedy with a heart.

CM: What themes does it explore? What makes it relevant to today’s audiences?
TL: Rattigan’s plays are always relevant because they speak truthfully about common human experiences, especially the pains and joys of love. ‘First Episode’ is one of the first plays to write about homosexual relationships, and was considered rather scandalous at the time because of its frank treatment of sex.

CM: To what extent is it a true story – apparently the play was based on the playwright’s own experiences?
TL: Yes it was. Rattigan wrote the play with his best friend, Philip Heimann. Heimann got involved in a relationship with an older woman, and they wrote a play about it. Also, while Rattigan was a student at Oxford in the 1930s, John Gielgud came to direct a student play, and Peggy Ashcroft appeared in it. Those events crop up in ‘First Episode’.

CM: Terence Rattigan is probably best known for plays like ‘The Winslow Boy’ and ‘The Browning Version’, but can you tell us a bit more about the playwright and his career?
TL: Rattigan was one of the most successful playwrights of the 20th century, sometimes with multiple West End hits running simultaneously. In the 1950s and 60s he fell out of fashion, and it’s only in the last few years that we’ve started to appreciate him again.

CM: Given his fairly sizeable oeuvre, what made you decide to stage this particular play?
TL: I found it very funny, fresh and tender. He was only 22 when he wrote it, and it’s about what it’s like to be young and having grown-up experiences for the first time. Everyone can relate to it.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
TL: The brilliant Caroline Langrishe plays Margot. She has played numerous leading roles on TV and stage over the years. The rest of the cast are all very young. Gavin Fowler, who was nominated for the Ian Charleson Award last year, plays Tony.

CM: What challenges have you faced bringing this to the stage? Does the play’s vintage present any difficulties? – though of course you work with older scripts a lot, so must be pretty good at this by now..!
TL: Every time you do an old script, the challenge is the same: how do you treat it as if it were a brand new play? Of course some things have changed over the last 80 years, but I suspect a bunch of students are not that different today from in 1933. The same things still matter.

CM: What’s next for you and Primavera?
TL: For Primavera, I’m not sure – we’ve done three productions this year, which is much more than usual. So we might recover a little bit next year! For me there are a few exciting projects in the pipeline in this country and abroad – but nothing I can tell you about yet!

‘First Episode’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre until 22 Nov, see more info on the venue website here, and book tickets right about here.

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